International Justice (IJ) Monitor has learned that the six men accused of sexual violence against Maya Achí women in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz in the early 1980s, in the context of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict, were released on order of the judge presiding over the preliminary phase of the legal proceedings in the case.
Judge Claudette Domínguez of High Risk Court “A” ordered the men’s release on Tuesday, June 25, just two working days after her June 21 ruling, in which she dismissed the charges against three of the defendants and provisionally dismissed the charges against three others. The ruling was sharply criticized for its use of specious technical arguments to exclude key evidence in the case, including the direct testimonies of the women-survivors, in which they identify the six men as the direct perpetrators of sexual violence against them.
In the June 21 ruling, the judge ordered the men’s release pending the presentation of proof that they would not reside in the same municipality and department as the victims in the case. The defense lawyers presented addresses for each of the accused outside of Baja Verapaz, leading the judge to order their immediate release on June 25.
Despite ordering the immediate release of all six defendants after they provided their new addresses, the judge gave the Attorney General’s Office an extra month to present new evidence against three of the defendants. If the case against the three men is allowed to move forward after the additional evidence is presented, it is uncertain whether authorities would be able to arrest them again. Notably, three men wanted in connection to this case remain at large. One of those fugitives has since been detained in the United States and the whereabouts of the other two are unknown. The men were members of the civil defense patrols, which the Guatemalan army deployed to control the local population and which engaged in serious abuses of human rights during the armed conflict.
The plaintiffs filed six appeals and a recusal motion against Judge Domínguez on June 26. The plaintiffs were unaware that the judge had already ordered the liberation of the six men accused in the case.
The judge referred the six appeals filed by the plaintiffs to the First High Risk Appellate Court, but she has not resolved the recusal motion against her in this case. According to Guatemalan law, a judge presented with a recusal motion is required to either accept or reject the motion and then elevate it to the appellate court, which then convenes a hearing in which the parties present their arguments.
The recusal motion argues that the judge’s decision to dismiss the charges was arbitrary and leaves the women victims in in a situation of total vulnerability because their alleged aggressors were allowed to go free. According to Carmen Lucrecia Morales, the prosecutor representing the Attorney General’s Office in the case, Judge Domínguez’s June 21 decision violates the effective protection of the victims and fails to take into account key evidence presented by her office, which is also a serious violation of the rights of the victims.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) in Guatemala was in Rabinal to verify the situation and told IJ Monitor that no measures have been taken to ensure the safety of the women survivors who brought the charges against the former civil defense patrolmen. According to the OHCHR, the judicial authorities have not informed the local office of the National Police in Rabinal about the measures dictated by the judge preventing the men from residing in Rabinal or in Baja Verapaz. The women told the OHCHR that they fear reprisals.
Impeachment Proceedings Filed against Judge Domínguez
Today, the Attorney General’s Office is filing impeachment proceedings against Judge Domínguez. According to Hilda Pineda, head of the Human Rights Section of the Attorney General’s Office, the judge’s June 21 decision constitutes a breach of legal duty (prevaricato) and a denial of justice for the Maya Achí women. The judge based her decision solely on her determination that the accused were not members of the civil defense patrols, a decision that Pineda says is contrary to the evidence presented by the plaintiffs. Also, Pineda, who is pictured below, said the judge’s ruling failed to examine or even consider the crimes the men are accused of or the fact that the women identified the six men as the direct perpetrators of the crimes against them.
Fiscalía de Derechos Humanos presenta en Gestión Penal una solicitud de antejuicio contra la jueza de mayor riesgo “A”, Claudette Domínguez.
— Emisoras Unidas (@EmisorasUnidas) July 11, 2019
As IJ Monitor has reported, Judge Domínguez has long been questioned for rulings that favor military officials accused of human rights violations as well as powerful figures accused of other crimes, including corruption and murder. Plaintiffs in three grave crimes cases — the Maya Achí sexual violence case, the Mendoza García genocide case, and the CREOMPAZ enforced disappearance case — have filed recusal motions against the judge in recent weeks.
Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at George Mason University. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Paulo Estrada is a human rights activist, archaeology student at San Carlos University, and civil party in the Military Diary case.